What is a Pushrod Engine: Understanding the Classic Valve Mechanism

A pushrod engine, commonly referred to as an overhead valve (OHV) engine, operates using pushrods to actuate its valves.

Within this engine type, the valves, which are integral components responsible for controlling the flow of air and fuel into the engine’s combustion chambers, are located in the cylinder head above the chamber itself.

This setup is different from overhead camshaft (OHC) engines, where the camshafts are situated close to the valves, eliminating the need for pushrods.

What is a Pushrod Engine: Understanding the Classic Valve Mechanism

Our pushrod engine contains a camshaft positioned within the engine block. This camshaft uses pushrods and rocker arms to open and close the engine’s valves.

This straightforward mechanical arrangement has a significant impact on the engine’s overall size and design.

Compact and lightweight, a pushrod engine is often more efficient at lower RPMs and has reduced complexity compared to its dual overhead camshaft (DOHC) counterparts, which feature two camshafts located in the cylinder head.

Despite their simplicity, pushrod engines have considerations to be aware of.

These engines typically do not rev as high as OHC engines due to the larger mass of the valvetrain components, which can include the pushrods, rocker arms, and lifters.

This factor can influence the engine’s ability to produce power at high speeds.

However, for many applications where low-end torque and space efficiency are paramount, the pushrod engine can be a robust and practical choice.

Overview of Pushrod Engine Design

Pushrod engines distinguish themselves through a unique balance of simplicity and functionality.

We’ll explore their contrast with overhead cam configurations, the advantages inherent to pushrod technology, and the defining components that make up these engines.

Comparison with Overhead Cam Engines

Pushrod engines, also known as overhead valve (OHV) engines, employ a different valvetrain structure compared to overhead cam (OHC) engines.

In OHC engines, the camshafts sit directly above the valves, which can be single cam (SOHC) or double cam (DOHC), governing intake and exhaust without intermediary components. Meanwhile, pushrod engines perform these tasks using a system of rods and rocker arms.

Pushrod Engine OHC Engine
Camshaft located in the engine block Camshaft located in the cylinder head
Uses pushrods and rocker arms Direct actuation of valves

Advantages of Pushrod Technology

Pushrod engines often find favor for their compact size, which allows for a lower center of gravity and can contribute to better vehicle balance.

Their comparatively light weight enhances performance, particularly evident in low-end torque – an essential aspect for trucks and performance cars.

Pushrod technology boasts reduced complexity in design, leading to lower production costs.

Cost: Generally less expensive than OHC engines due to fewer parts.
Weight: Lighter, contributing to overall vehicle weight reduction.
Low-End Torque: Pushrod engines excel in delivering power at lower RPMs.

Key Components of Pushrod Engines

Components central to the function of pushrod engines include lifters, pushrods, rocker arms, and the camshaft.

Lifters, sitting atop the cam lobes, transfer motion through pushrods up to rocker arms, which then actuate the valves, facilitating the intake and exhaust phases within the combustion chamber.

Pushrod length and diameter are carefully tuned to maintain valve timing and prevent issues such as valve float at high RPMs.

Important: Valve springs are critical in this design as they must return the valves to a closed position quickly and prevent valve float, a condition where the valve fails to close properly at high engine speeds.

Role of Camshafts in Valve Timing

The camshaft plays a central role in orchestrating the precise opening and closing of an engine’s valves, a process that significantly impacts engine performance and efficiency.

Influence on Engine Performance

Critical Impact: Camshafts directly control valve timing, affecting air and fuel mixture intake and exhaust gas expulsion.

Valve timing orchestrated by the camshaft dictates how an engine breathes.

As RPM increases, the camshaft must operate in tight synchronization with the engine’s pistons to optimize airflow and maintain optimal combustion.

Variable Valve Timing (VVT) systems allow the engine to adjust the valve timing on the fly, which can result in improved power, efficiency, and reduced emissions across a variety of operating conditions.

Camshaft Material and Design

The choice of material for camshafts, often high-strength steel like chrome moly, and the precision in their design, considering factors like diameter and wall thickness, profoundly affect their ability to operate smoothly against frictional forces.

Durability is key:

Reliability and durability depend on both material choice and camshaft design.

Modern engines often use carefully designed cam profiles to improve air velocity through the engine’s valvetrain components.

Camshafts must be durable not only to manage the stress of high-speed operation but also to minimize wear over time, thus reducing the need for frequent maintenance and replacement.

Evaluating Engine Efficiency and Power

Pushrod engines, like the ones historically used by General Motors and Chrysler, excel in producing robust low-end torque and maintaining efficiency at low RPMs.

While other engine designs strive for high RPM performance, pushrod engines leverage their design for different strengths.

Balancing Torque and RPM

Low RPM Efficiency:

  • Low-end Torque: Our pushrod engines generate significant torque at low revolutions thanks to their inherent design—resulting in efficient power delivery when starting from a standstill.
  • Weight Savings: With less overall weight from fewer moving parts, these engines benefit from increased operational efficiency.

The careful design of the pushrod mechanism allows our V8 engines to maximize performance through the optimal balance of spring pressure in the valve springs and pushrod diameter.

This delicate balance helps manage friction and wear while enabling sufficient power output across different RPM ranges.

Wear and Maintenance Considerations


  • Friction: Our pushrod engines are designed to minimize friction among components, aiding in reducing wear and extending the engine’s lifespan.
  • Maintenance: Simpler construction allows for easier access to parts, lowering the time and cost of routine maintenance.

The key to durability in our pushrod engines lies in the meticulous selection of materials and construction techniques. This includes the use of high-quality valve springs that withstand the demands of repeated engine cycles.

Regular maintenance and timely replacement of these components prevent excessive wear, safeguarding the engine’s power and efficiency.

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